State FFA members discuss agriculture with state legislators
COLUMBIA — Agriculture is important for the South Carolina economy and the state’s youth are stepping up to have their voices heard as advocates for the agricultural industry.
More than 1,000 members of the South Carolina FFA Association gathered at the South Carolina Capitol Feb. 22 for the annual Legislator Appreciation Day. The members met with state legislators to thank them for their support and discuss the future of agriculture and education in the state. This event was held in conjunction with National FFA Week Feb. 18-25. The National FFA is the youth organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America.
“We are gathered here not only to celebrate FFA Week, but to celebrate our legislators who support FFA and agricultural education,” said Austin Cathcart, state FFA president and a member of the Lexington-Richland District 5 FFA chapter. “We also celebrate this common love of agriculture that has been instilled in each of us wearing these blue jackets. The path we are paving for American agriculture is ensuring that future generations will have enough food to eat and clothes to wear.”
Hugh Weathers, South Carolina commissioner of agriculture, commended the youth for their interest and involvement in agriculture.
“Your attendance here today shows you care about South Carolina agriculture,” Weathers said. “I encourage you to talk with your (government) officials about agriculture. Use your words effectively and let them know what you are thinking. Your attendance today is a great boost for South Carolina agriculture and for those of us who make critical decisions concerning agriculture in our state.”
State Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, said he, too, was encouraged by the FFA members’ attendance at the State Capitol.
“Too often, we read and hear about negative actions involving our youth,” Hiott said. “But when I look out and see you, I’m encouraged. I know our future is in good hands.”
State Sen. Daniel Verdin, R-Laurens, said FFA is one of the best organizations youth can belong to.
“As a young person, you are on the cusp of life,” Verdin said. “As a member of FFA, you are in the greatest preparatory role of any young person here in South Carolina. What you are learning now will benefit you later in life. Remember everything you can about events such as this so that you can use your experiences to help you throughout your lifetime.”
Molly Spearman, state superintendent of education, applauded the steps the FFA organization has taken to include everyone.
“When I was in school, I couldn’t be in FFA,” Spearman said. “I had to be in FHA, which stands for Future Homemakers of America and was the girls’ club. As I look out among you, I see girls wearing blue FFA jackets and I know we’ve come a long way. My advice to you is to keep going. I am confident in our future because I know South Carolina is producing exceptional young people who will be able to successfully lead our state in the future.”
The “blue FFA jackets” Spearman referred to are blue corduroy jackets that have been worn by FFA members since the 1930s.
As the event began to wind down, members of the Saluda High School FFA Club said they were happy to have attended the Legislator Appreciation Day as it gave them an opportunity to advocate for agriculture.
“This is one of the most important things we can do as members of FFA,” said Hannah Bowen, a junior at Saluda High School and member of the school’s FFA Chapter. “Food and fiber are essential for everyone and farmers are the providers for these necessities. We are here to speak out and let our legislators know we support and encourage support for South Carolina agriculture.”
The event also included the awarding of Honorary State FFA and Honorary American degrees to several of the legislators. These degrees are reserved for those individuals who have gone beyond the call of duty to promote and support the mission of the FFA at the local, state and national levels. These prestigious awards are considered to be among the top agricultural awards available in America.
Receiving Honorary State FFA degrees were Ron Ronveri, state director of Career and Technology Education for the South Carolina Department of Education; and Sen. J. Thomas McElveen III, D-Sumter. Receiving the Honorary American Degree was Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry.
South Carolina has more than 7,200 members in FFA chapters located throughout the state, said Keith Cox, secretary-treasurer of the South Carolina FFA.